Maplewood Opinion Police and Fire Schools / Kids South Orange

Letter: Black Parents Group Urges Maplewood to Remove Police Chief

The following is from Walter Fields:

The Black Parents Workshop has now reviewed the Maplewood Police Department police radio transmissions and, street and dash-cam video from July 5, 2016 and conclude that the only course of action for the Maplewood Township Committee to take is the dismissal of Police Chief Robert Cimino. It is clear that Chief Cimino is responsible for the abuse of Black youth by officers under his command. He gave the orders and approved the large contingent of police that stalked Black children as they tried to return home after the township’s Independence Day fireworks, only to be forced to leave their own community and herded toward neighboring Irvington.

There is no place in the Township of Maplewood and the Maplewood Police Department for Chief Cimino and the officers who used excessive force and violated the rights and dignity of Black children on the evening of July 5, 2016. Our children were harassed, demeaned, punched, kicked and body-slammed by police officers who exhibited a sense of lawlessness and entitlement that has its roots in the leadership of the department. The department’s only path to reconciliation with the African-American community is the removal of Chief Cimino and those officers who assaulted our children.

Though the Maplewood Township Committee has hired a firm to investigate this incident, our elected leaders should not use this inquiry as an excuse to delay or avoid taking action. There is sufficient evidence – we have now heard it and viewed it – to dismiss Chief Cimino. The time is always right to do what’s right.

Just this weekend, police chiefs across the nation roundly criticized the president of the United States for endorsing excessive force as a policing tactic. These chiefs, unlike our own, understand how police violence betrays the public’s trust and undermines respect for law enforcement.

On the radio transmissions, we clearly hear Chief Cimino give the order for the police to march the youth down Elmwood Avenue toward Irvington, and that once they entered “their” town, to secure “our” borders. The videos give us clear evidence of the overwhelming police presence that the chief authorized, with officers walking in packs as they formed a wall, pushing our children to the Irvington border. What is also captured is the physical abuse of our youth by officers, with some young people being pushed, shoved to the ground, punched, kicked and pepper sprayed. It was a cowardly display by law enforcement professionals and a reminder that racial profiling and police brutality exists not in some remote corner of the nation, but in our own backyard.

Chief Cimino has proven himself unworthy of leading a police department in a community that claims to be ‘Stigma Free’ and purports to embrace ‘diversity.’ If nothing else, this shameful episode should awaken residents of Maplewood, and neighboring South Orange, that there is much work to do to become the community we project to the outside world. There is no gray area here – by maintaining Chief Cimino in his present role the Township of Maplewood will in one fell swoop insult the African-American community, and not just in our town, send a message to the nation that this behavior is acceptable, and enter the pantheon of communities that ignored the obvious only to later pay dearly for its lack of courage.

We ask – Maplewood, what type of community is this when police are allowed to prey upon children? Why should we as taxpayers allow you to take our hard-earned dollars and then use them to support police department leadership that has no regard for the welfare of our children? Where is the moral leadership that draws the line on such abuses and puts children first? Have we now been exposed as a fraud, a mirage, a facsimile of a community we wish to be but are not capable of being?

What should we tell our Black children? What should we tell them when they want to know why they are not welcome in their own community? What should we tell them when they want to know why their white peers are unscathed and can move freely, unencumbered by the burden of being preyed upon, and to live their lives as teenagers unconcerned that on any given day they may have the misfortune of encountering a rogue police officer?

Maplewood must decide right now, and not after some moment of self-centered reflection, but decide right now what our town represents. We must reject romanticizing integration if we are going to simply be enamored by living side-by-side, and place property values before the value of a Black child’s life. It’s time to cease the self-serving ‘dialogues,’ ‘forums,’ and ‘town hall’ meetings that are nothing more than branding exercises that bandage the festering wounds of a community that is impaired by its own hypocrisy. We are in a moment that calls for moral clarity and uncluttered consciousness. Truth is the only path forward if we are courageous enough to follow wherever it leads us.

In this hour, there can be no delay. Justice has no waiting room.

Walter Fields

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